The sun was shining and the air was warm. Humidity was high and even the stray cats were feeling the heat. It was August in Tel Aviv. The second I walked out of the cool, air-conditioned building on Ben-Yehuda, perspiration had already gotten the better of me.
“Taxi!” I yelled, as I put my hand in the air. No sooner had I made my request that a dented white Skoda pulled up to the sidewalk to save my sweat glands from working overtime.
“Where to?” the driver asked as I maneuvered myself into the back of the taxi.
“Would you mind pulling the passenger seat forward a little? I have no room for my legs.” I requested. “Rehov Ha’arbaa. And would you mind extinguishing your cigarette and turning the air-conditioning on please. It’s a rather hot day today, isn’t it?” I added.
The driver muttered something under his breath as he threw the remainder of his cigarette out the window. “Meter or 30 shekels?” he asked, a sinister smile playing on his face.
Live dangerously, I thought to myself. Take the gamble. Ask for the meter. I had done this route before, and in the past had never paid more than 25 shekels. “Meter please.” I replied. The challenge was on and I knew I’d be the victor.
As we headed north on Ben-Yehuda the driver casually pointed out to me that there was no left turn at Bograshov due to road works.
“Ok, thank you.” I sheepishly replied.
At that second my phone rang and my attention was immediately distracted. The driver was also speaking on his phone, and due to the wonderment of hands-free technology, both sides of his conversation were drowning out any chance I had of hearing the person on the other end of my call. “I’m just in a taxi in Tel Aviv. I’ll call you back soon. I should be there in a minute or two.
Ten minutes later, as the taxi approached the industrial area not too far from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, I realized that the journey was taking way longer than it should. I glanced at the meter and it had already clocked up 32 shekels. What the…, I thought.
“How did we end up here? This is nowhere near Rehov Ha’arbaa.” I stated, trying to remain calm but assertive.
“I told you there was no left turn at Bograshov. So I continued straight on Allenby,” The driver casually replied.
“What do you mean ‘you told me there was no left turn at Bograshov’? What’s the connection?” I asked with a tad more urgency to my tone.
“What I’m saying is that if you would have told me where to go when there was no left turn at Bograshov, I would have listened to you, but now it’s too late.”
“Yes, too late. Now I’m following the flow of the traffic.”
“The flow of the traffic?”
“Yes. What don’t you understand?”
“I’ll tell you what I don’t understand,” I yelled. “I don’t understand how you could expect me to tell you where to drive. I don‘t understand how a taxi driver doesn’t know an alternative route if a road is closed. I’m not even from around here. I live in Nahariya. How am I supposed to know the route if a road is closed? This journey should cost 25 shekels and now it’s already almost 42.”
“From the second you got in my taxi you’ve been complaining. Pull the seat forward. Put the cigarette out. Turn on the mazgan. I asked you if you wanted the meter or fixed price and you chose the meter,” The driver retorted. “All you Americans are the same.”
No offense to my American friends, but that final comment was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
“I’m not American. I’m from England. But now I’m Israeli. I’ve lived here now for eight years and in my experience all you taxi drivers are the same.” I snapped back. “Listen, I even speak Hebrew.”
“You’re still new here,” came the driver’s reply.
“What do you mean, still new?! When will I not be new anymore?” The conversation had just taken a turn for the surreal. “Where are you from?”
“Me, I’m from Morocco,” Said the driver with a proud smile. “But I’m different. I’ve been here over 40 years. I’m not new anymore.”
“But you’re an immigrant just like me. So how’s that working out for you?” I inquired, genuinely interested.
“Well, actually I try as best I can to earn an honest living, but all you Americans argue and complain so much over the sake of a few shekels, I just want to retire already.”
And with that we had finally reached our destination. The meter read 48 shekels. I handed him a 50 and said, “Keep the change.”
Rosh Hashanah was a few weeks away. The driver held a big arm out the window. “Hag Same’ah, gingy.” He said as he gave me a firm handshake.
“Hag Same’ah to you too!”